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The author (left) is pictured with her parents Colin Montgomery and Shelley Hogan on a family trip to Vancouver in Sept. 2017.Handout
I left my childhood home in the suburbs of Toronto to move downtown in March, eagerly anticipating my first summer of living in the big city.
Enter COVID-19, and things haven’t gone exactly as planned.
First of all, as a content editor hired for a February start at The Globe, I’ve done my job almost entirely remotely, missing out on all the benefits of face-to-face interaction at a new workplace.
Then, there’s all the socializing I was planning on doing in Toronto’s fabulous bars and restaurants. We all know how that’s going.
But the thing that has perhaps surprised me most has been an apparent role reversal between me, a supposedly reckless twentysomething, and my 57-year-old parents. At no point did I envision having the urge to drop in on their physically distanced backyard hangouts, unannounced, to make sure the whole affair – with one other couple – was pandemic-safe. When one of their guests went inside to use the bathroom, I wasn’t mad. I was just disappointed.
As I find myself regularly lecturing my parents on their lifestyle choices, I’m starting to realize yet another unforeseen effect of this pandemic – humanity’s capacity to point fingers, even at those we love. Or, perhaps, especially at those we love.
When I stop to ask myself why I’m so quick to highlight everything I consider a transgression, like popping into a shop for a non-essential reason (seriously, a new comforter is hardly a must in the middle of a pandemic), I always land on this: First and foremost, I’m afraid they will get sick.
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And second, being able to correct what I perceive as their mistakes, in a situation that has stripped us all of our sense of agency, gives me some semblance of control.
Indeed, as Emily Cassel noted in Vice, the pandemic “is the first time many adults in their 20s and 30s have had to consciously grapple with their parents’ mortality, or with the fact that one’s aging parents can and will stubbornly ignore advice about what’s best for their health.”
I’m not the only kid out there fretting about this. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, Michael Schulman described in the New Yorker an e-mail he wrote to his parents, after realizing they were carrying on as if there weren’t a deadly virus swirling in their midst: “‘I feel like the two of you are not taking serious enough precautions right now,’ I told them. ‘The time is DONE for going out to restaurants, showing up at the office every day, etc. Just stay inside and watch TV!’ When I followed up with texts, my mother wrote back sarcastically, ‘Thanks mom.’ This role reversal was ... novel.”
It is weird to be correcting my parents, I admit. And it’s not like they’re being wildly careless. They are actually following public-health guidelines, but I feel they should sometimes be even more vigilant than what is required of them, to put their health above all else. Despite those good intentions, they are losing their patience with their youngest daughter trying to micromanage their every move. As Globe reporter Dakshana Bascaramurty wrote: “The older set, predominantly baby boomers, who are healthier and more active than their parents were at the same age, can take offence to what they see as infantilization from their children; but members of generations X, Y and Z worry that mantras such as ’70 is the new 50′ have given their parents a false sense of security.”
Now, I don’t think any of us are trying to “infantilize” our parents, even if that’s their impression. And I certainly don’t want to mute my parents’ lives to the point that my attempts to keep them safe become counterproductive. (My 80-year-old grandfather is pretty miffed my mother won’t go inside his house, and while I think she’s doing the right thing – which I may or may not have insisted upon myself – I do worry about the scores of research that highlight the importance of human interaction for elderly people’s mood and cognition.)
Still, with the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, I’d rather err on the side of caution and continue to vigilantly protect against the virus (including keeping an eye on my parents) than let down our collective guard and suffer the perhaps avoidable consequences. I felt like I was hearing from a kindred spirit when I read Globe reporter Alexandra Posadzki’s recent Amplify about her experience being decked out (and singled out) at a wedding in full PPE gear. As she pointed out, we can be unkind to the wet blankets of the world. But I’ll continue to wear my no-fun-police badge with pride for as long as I have to.
What else we’re thinking about:
I’ve been watching tons of TV and movies this year; I try to mix in a documentary or docu-series every now and then to trick myself into thinking my binge-watching habit can be educational. Some favourites: Love on the Spectrum (Netflix), which follows autistic adults as they navigate romance and dating. In MerB’ys (CBC Gem), a group of men challenge traditional ideas of masculinity as they pose as glammed-up mermen for charity. Life Off the Grid (Prime Video) looks at Canadians who have chosen a life of isolation and self-sustainability. They each cover relatively lighter topics, which is a nice distraction.
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